Drama festival offers special experience for high school students

There were four people in the car when it crashed. Only one made it out alive.

As Will comes to grips with losing his girlfriend, brother and friend, 17-year-old Cristina DiGiulio is busy backstage.

The St. Joan of Arc high school student is the director of “Road to Recovery,” a one-act play about a young man named Will who is struggling to live his life after a car accident.

“It’s a very emotional play,” Cristina said. “A lot of people cried because of the sadness throughout it. (It’s about) dealing with loss and how you can always overcome it.

“As long as you have the right people to help you then it can be dealt with.”

Grade 12 students from St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Vaughan performed the play last Tuesday at the district level of the 65th annual Sears Ontario Drama Festival.

For the first time in St. Joan of Arc’s history, the play presented at the Sears festival was written by its students. Close friends Fabrizio Cavalluzzo, who plays Will, and Cristina wrote the script together. They worked on “Road to Recovery,” a work of fiction, for months.

“It was a long process. It took us a while… But now that I look back, I can’t imagine doing a play that wasn’t my own,” Cristina said. “I can’t picture taking someone else’s work and putting it on stage. It felt so much more special.”

About 350 Ontario high schools are participating in the drama festival, which runs until May. Wayne Fairhead, executive director of the festival, says the benefits for high-schoolers are enormous.

“It’s provides them with an opportunity to express themselves and test themselves,” he said. “It helps with their communication skills and their reading and writing. These are life skills. They can be applied to anything.”

When the festival first began, school’s usually performed British and American plays, Fairhead said. These days it’s a completely different story.

“Now it’s full of strong Canadian content. Teenagers are very interested with what’s happening in their world. They want to explore relationships,” he said. “It’s exciting because the festival has a real (Canadian) identity.”

The cast and crew of “Road to Recovery” will have to wait until March to find out if they’ve made it to the regional level, because all schools have to perform first. Although they want to make it to the next round, they’re happy with how far they’ve come, Cristina said.